Halloween: A Groundbreaking Film Essay
Halloween was, and still is, a classic horror movie for three simple reasons: originality, flattery, and durability.Upon its release in 1978, Halloween set a new standard for horror movies, proving that it was possible to create genuine chills without excessive amounts of blood, overpaid actors, or a gigantic budget. Using innovative camera work, shadows, and creepy music, a new monster materialized. They took one of mankind’s most primal fears, the mythical bogeyman, and inserted it into Anytown, USA. A killer who can’t be understood or reasoned with, who never speaks or acts even remotely human – THAT was both refreshing and terrifying.
Halloween was the film that earned Jamie Lee Curtis the infamous title of “Scream Queen.” She plays Laurie Strode, the virginal protagonist. Curtis effectively conveys the feelings and aspirations of a shy, insecure teenager. It is hard to believe that Curtis would develop into a well-known actress often considered a sex symbol. An image very different from the awkward, gawky character she portrayed in Halloween.
The film opens with a long, single-shot introduction that takes place on Halloween night, 1963.
A young Michael Myers watches as his older sister, Judith, sneaks upstairs for a quickie with a guy from school. After the boyfriend has departed, Michael takes a knife out of the kitchen drawer, ascends the staircase, and stabs Judith to death. The entire sequence employs the subjective point- of-view, an approach that writer/director John Carpenter returns to repeatedly throughout the movie. Only after the deed is done, do we learn that Michael is only a child. The bulk of the movie takes place fifteen years later. Michael confined to an asylum for the criminally insane, escapes on the night before Halloween.
His doctor, Sam Loomis, actually refers to Michael as ” pure evil” and ” it.” The doctor is convinced that Michael is no longer human. Loomis, believing Michael to be the embodiment of evil tracks the killer back Haddonfield, his birthplace. From there, Loomis races against time in attempt to locate and stop the escapee before he starts again where he left off in 1963.
Michael’s primary victims are Laurie and her two best friends, Annie and Lynda. Throughout the film, Michael is shown gradually closing in on the girls, until, in the final act, Laurie is involved in a face-to-face fight for her life.
Much has been made of the fact that the key to survival in Halloween is being a virgin. The three girls who have sex with their boyfriends (Judith Myers, Annie, and Lynda) do not survive their encounters with Michael. Laurie, who has nothing to do with boys, does. Carpenter has stated that this was not a conscious theme, but, ever since Halloween, the standard for slasher films has been that sexual promiscuity leads to a violent end.
Another important element of Halloween’s success is our ability to identify with the trio of female protagonists, and Carpenter establishes a rapport between the audience and the characters by employing intelligent, realistic dialogue and placing the girls in believable situations. For Annie and Lynda, the most important thing about Halloween night is finding a place to have sex with their boyfriends.
For Laurie, it is making sure the kid she’s babysitting is having a good time. Annie and Lynda are blissfully unaware of their danger until it is too late, but Laurie recognizes her danger. Meanwhile, if Michael represents “pure evil,” Sam Loomis is the avenging angel. He is the voice of reason that no one listens to, and, in the end, he is the cavalry coming over the mountain, gun blazing.
Nick Castle plays Michael (who is referred to in the end credits as “the Shape”) as an implacable, inhuman adversary. Because he wears a painted white Captain Kirk mask, we only once (briefly) see his features, and this makes him even more frightening.
He kills without making a sound or changing his expression, and his movements are often slow and zombie-like. Carpenter is exceedingly careful in choosing the camera angles he uses to shoot Michael. Before the climax, there is never a clear close-up-he’s always concealed by shadows, shown in the distance, or presented as otherwise .